5 things you should know about apostrophes


Although the apostrophe may not seem like a big deal, it’s caused a lot of confusion and heartache for those who love proper grammar.

Tomorrow marks the resurrection of our #RaganSocial Twitter chat, and Mignon Fogarty—otherwise known as Grammar Girl—will join me to discuss corporate writing and avoiding grammar gaffes.

Fogarty recently interviewed Ammon Shea, author of “Bad English,” about the history of the apostrophe. When Fogarty asked how writing over the decades had changed, Shea said the following:

Several decades ago you would write 1950’s (with the apostrophe) and that is generally not the case now . . . A lot of department stores are starting to drop their apostrophes … I just noticed that Marshalls department store does not use an apostrophe, but I’m pretty sure they used to . . . I’ve seen a number of old newspaper articles referring to Marshall’s where it did have an apostrophe. … I think it would not be surprising if this happened more and more frequently since we do not use apostrophes in typing URLs, and then once you see that you don’t need it, it’s very easy to do away with it in other contexts.

The apostrophe has clearly evolved over the last few decades. These tips will help set you straight:

1. Apostrophes indicate possessive nouns, but aren’t used for personal pronouns. It is not only grammatically incorrect to place an apostrophe after a personal pronoun, it’s also weird and awkward.

People often get confused and mistake the contraction “you’re” for the possessive “your.” Here are some correct uses:

Sheila’s sunglasses are purple.

His sunglasses are blue.

Your glasses are heart-shaped.

As an aside, each of these people wore their sunglasses at night so they could see the light right before their eyes. No? Not a fan of Corey Hart?

2. Apostrophes are not used to indicate plurals . Though some may see an “s” at the end of a word and assume it needs an apostrophe, it is never used to indicate a plural.

Incorrect: The banana’s are on sale this week at Target.

Correct: The bananas are on sale this week at Target.

Remember, the bananas are 89 cents; they don’t own the 89 cents. In case you need motivation, here’s a truth:

Save the puppies: Don’t use apostrophes to show something is plural.

3. Apostrophes are often used to replace missing letters. Along with indicating possession, apostrophes are used in contractions; they take the place of missing letters.

Please do not use my comb. I heard you have lice.

Please don’t use my skinny jeans. I don’t want them to be stretched out.

Just kidding; I don’t wear skinny jeans.

4. Apostrophes can be tricky . As with other punctuation marks, you should watch apostrophe use with plural possessives, irregular nouns, and other unique words. While you would generally use an apostrophe after the “s” to indicate possession of a plural word, it’s not always the case with all plural words.

Take a look at these examples:

The dolls’ outfits need to be mended; they are full of holes.

The children’s nightmares were full of dolls after seeing a trailer for “Annabelle.”

By the way, the only acceptable response to seeing that movie’s trailer is immediate and sustained screaming.

5. Apostrophes won’t necessarily fix grammatical errors. Apostrophes are not a panacea for grammar ailments. They won’t fix a wrong choice in words or a complete sentence-structure meltdown.

Incorrect: Their going to a corn maze this weekend.

Incorrect: The’ir going to a corn maze this weekend.

Correct: They’re going to a corn maze this weekend.

It actually pained me to write those first two. Remember the puppies, folks.

You can join Grammar Girl and me Tuesday afternoon at 2 p.m. CST on Twitter. Just use the hashtag #RaganSocial.

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